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Capt. Tommy Thompson's Saltwater Angler's Guides


Sailfish: State’s saltwater fish offers on-the-water excitement

by on Mar.11, 2014, under Uncategorized

Sailfish hold a special place in many Florida resident and visitor’s hearts. Whether they’ve admired a replica of the beautiful fish while waiting for a fresh-caught meal at a local restaurant, or felt their blood pump as one leapt into the air on the other end of a fishing line, the fish known for its tall “sail-like” dorsal fin is a Florida icon. Though you can find the highly migratory species in warm offshore waters around the globe, sailfish are so abundant off the coast of Florida and so popular with people it was made the state’s official saltwater fish in 1975.
Between its aesthetic beauty and its penchant for fighting, sailfish are a recreational favorite.

Like bonefish or tarpon, two of Florida’s other iconic fishes, the sailfish has a higher value as a recreational catch-and-release species than it does as a commercial food fish. The meat is tough and is rarely eaten unless smoked.

I sat down with coworker, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission biologist and sailfish fan Justin Lerner to find out a little more about the appeal of fishing for sailfish.

“It’s very exciting fishing, especially when using a kite,” Lerner said, describing a fishing method where an actual kite is used to dangle bait at the top of the water, enticing the sailfish to take the bait right before your eyes. “It is a very fast, very acrobatic fish with a lot of energy.”

Lerner caught his first sailfish in 2000 on an offshore charter trip and was instantly hooked (my apologies for the pun).

While they are typically caught in water 80 to 240 feet deep, sailfish, unlike other billfish, can be found in fairly shallow water and, though not common, have even been caught off piers in south Florida and in the northern Gulf of Mexico near Panama City.

Look for color changes in the water, Lerner said, and fish along them. When the water goes from an inshore green to a deep blue you are in the right spot.

Sailfish can be caught in every region of Florida, but they are more abundant in south Florida in the colder months, from October through March.

“Cold fronts drive bait south, and fish run an interception,” Lerner said.

In areas of north Florida and the Panhandle, such as Panama City, they are more abundant during the summer and fall months.

Sailfish have been regulated in state waters at least since 1988, when a possession limit of one billfish per person was implemented, sale was prohibited, and gear was restricted to hook and line.

Today, there is a recreational bag limit of one billfish per person. Billfish includes blue marlin, white marlin, roundscale spearfish and sailfish. This means you can catch and keep one only billfish species per person, per day. There is no daily bag limit in federal waters for sailfish.

When fishing in federal waters, a federal Highly Migratory Species angling permit is required. Federal waters are beyond 3 nautical miles in the Atlantic and beyond 9 nautical miles in the Gulf.

While technique varies, one of the most popular ways to catch them is by kite fishing with live bait, usually goggle eyes or blue runners. Other popular techniques are slow trolling with live ballyhoo, or trolling with hookless bait and teasers and casting to fish as they appear in the trolling spread. Other popular live baits are threadfin herring and pilchards.

Hooked a sailfish? Once you get your fish to the boat, use caution. The long and pointed bill can be dangerous when attempting to unhook the fish. Lerner suggests holding the fish in the water by the bill while unhooking. Another option is cutting the line as close to the fish as possible. When release is your intention, leave the fish in the water at all times. Removing large fish from the water can cause internal damage to the fish and decrease its chances of survival. In all federal waters off Florida, a sailfish must remain in the water if you intend to release it.

While the species fights hard, it can tire and may need to be revived if you plan on releasing the fish. Use the appropriate tackle to shorten the amount of time it takes to bring your catch to your vessel. You can revive a sailfish by pointing its head into the current or pulling the fish through the current while the boat is moving slowly. This pushes water over the gills.

While most sailfish are caught and then released, if you plan on keeping yours, the sailfish caught in state or federal waters must be larger than 63 inches when measured from the end of the lower jaw to where the tail splits, also known as the fork.

Sailfish do not have a recreational closed season in state or federal waters.

All sailfish and other billfish caught in state and federal waters that are taken to shore or landed must be reported to NOAA Fisheries with 24 hours by calling 800-894-5528 or visiting the HMS permits website at https://HMSPermits.noaa.gov and selecting “landing reports.”

Learn more about billfish, including sailfish, by visiting MyFWC.com/Fishing and clicking on “Saltwater,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Highly Migratory Species.”

Have questions, comments or suggestions for this column? Email them to Saltwater@MyFWC.com.

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2nd Annual Marine Flea Market, Chiefland, FL, March 22, 2014

by on Mar.10, 2014, under Uncategorized

Don’t miss the big Marine Flea Market at Mangrove Creek Outfitters in Chiefland on March 22, 2014.  Expect to find tackle, fishing and hunting gear, used boats and motors, and all sorts of other outdoor gear at great prices.  The event begins at 8AM and ends at 2PM.

Mangrove Creek is located at 1109 N. Young Blvd, just north of the US129 intersection and next to the Pizza Hut.

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Homosassa Inshore Fishing Weekly Report, March 4, 2013, from Capt. William Toney

by on Mar.04, 2013, under Uncategorized

Just before the “BIG” cold front fishing on the Nature Coast was classic spring like conditions. On low tide the creek channels and backcountry holes were holding good numbers of sea trout most were under sized but some big fish were mixed in with them and for a bonus pompano were in the same spots also. If it was a deep hole up to 10 feet with sand on the bottom that’s where we would catch most of the pompano. I used a chartreuse D. O. A. jig head tipped with fresh shrimp. What was great about using this jig head was that it just took a second to put on a glow C.A.L. shad and that worked best on the trout.
When the tide was in the large trout were gathering on top of the outside points and submerged rock piles. This is a pre spawn and warming action that always happens every spring. Some of the trout that I cleaned had a very small pencil sized row in them. The best bait that I use for these very shallow water trout is the 5.5 D.O.A glow jerk bait nosed hooked with a Owner 3/0 bait style hook.
What happens after this front is something that I could only speculate on. I do know it will push fish deeper into the backcountry and those new fish that moved in from offshore might head back out there. A few redfish were being caught on the outside keys but I expect them to look for deeper water. Fishing our local rivers like the Homosassa and Crystal Rivers may be the ticket to find the bite. This weekend look for a mid day incoming tide.
Capt. William Toney    www.homosassainshorefishing.com

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“Get Hooked” at Provisions Bait & Tackle, Port Richey

by on Dec.06, 2012, under Hernando and Pasco Gulf Coast, Uncategorized

If you’re looking for a fully stocked bait and tackle shop in Pasco County, be sure to check out Provisions Bait & Tackle, located at 7933 US Hwy 19 in Port Richey.  It’s just north of the Cotee River Bridge and is a great source for all sorts of natural and artificial bait, as well as rods, reels and terminal tackle.  And they’ve just started stocking some nice fishing kayaks–just perfect for fishing the shallow waters of the nearby Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park.

Provisions Bait & Tackle is fully stocked and ready to outfit your next fishing adventure.

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Suncoast/Tampa Bay Fishing Report, Capt. Gary Burch, September/October 2012

by on Nov.05, 2012, under Dunedin, Clearwater and Largo, Old Tampa Bay--Above the Bridges, Uncategorized

September was pretty much a continuation of August as the fishing and catching action went.  All of the targeted species were available at any given time.  The water temps were slightly lower around 85 degrees and the air temperatures were around the middle 80’s. We did not cool down until later in the month and into October.

Most of my clients were catching trout, reds, snook, mackerel, sharks and a number of other species.  The key to September and October fishing was to keep moving around and chumming the spot with shrimp and white baits.  This created a very active area and drew in lots of hungry fish.

On into October, we had a few cool fronts that dropped the water temps below the 80 degree mark.  This seemed to turn on the bite and move the fish to different areas.  I checked the mangrove cuts and found redfish and trout had started to show up.  Also some larger trout were making their way into the bays.  I spotted a few snook in transition from the gulf passes to the bays.  These cold fronts should set up some great fall and early winter fishing.

Jim and company came out on a nice warm day and we fished in Clearwater Bay.  They caught a variety of fish on shrimp and white baits which included several nice redfish, a dozen nice trout, mackerel and lady fish.  We put in an effort for a snook but had no takers.

Richard and Joy joined me on a midweek trip to the shallows.  They caught redfish, trout and mackerel throughout the day.  Joy landed her first shark, a small Bonnet Head and had fun doing it.

Jordan and group picked a great day to go fishing.  Winds were calm and we had a great incoming tide.  They both started out catching some fighting redfish.  Nothing large but some great fighters.  Jordan’s biggest fish was 25 inches.  As we moved around the bay, they added several dozen trout, a few large mackerel and a shark or two.  At one of our stops, Jordan landed a 27 inch snook.  He did a great job catching the fish on light tackle.  This gave Jordan the slam of the day

Keith came out on a windy day.  We caught fish moving around to the cleanest water possible.  When the wind blows it dirties the water and scatters the bait fish and the fish that feed on them.  They usually migrate to the cleaner water around the bay.  Keith ended up with several nice redfish and trout.  He also added several mackerel and lady fish to the catch.

Kevin and family joined me for some fall fishing.  We moved around the bay fishing the areas that had the cleanest water.  Of course, the women struck first catching some nice trout, mackerel and a small shark.  It took a few more spots before the men finally showed up.  Kevin and dad caught some nice size trout with one measuring in over 20 inches.  They also added some mackerel and lady fish.  We put some time in for redfish but had no takers.

We had some great weather for Chase and Casey.  Moving around the bay paid off as we were able to cover more stops which resulted in more fish.  Both caught redfish up to 22 inches and trout up to 19 inches.  Several mackerel and lady fish were added to the pot as well.  Casey caught a small Bonnet Head shark and did a fantastic job boating the fish on light tackle.

Late October I could tell that fall was in the air.  Most of the fish caught at this time were very hungry and aggressive.  Even the smaller reds and trout took the bait like a freight train.  This is a great indication of things to come.

Watch for November to continue this trend of aggressive fish action.  Now if a strong cold front hits the area and drops the water temps 10 to 15 degrees, the fishing will disappear for a few days.  But give it a day or two and the sun will warm it back up.

Get out there and have some fun winter fishing.

Capt. Gary Burch

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24th Annual Old Salt and Bill Currie Ford Inshore – Offshore Ladies Tournament, August 23 and 25, 2012, Madeira Beach

by on Jul.27, 2012, under St. Pete Beaches, Uncategorized


24th Annual Old Salt and Bill Currie Ford
Inshore – Offshore Ladies Tournament
Thursday, August 23rd
& Saturday, August 25th, 2012

Tournament to be held at Madeira Beach Municipal Marina
503 150th Avenue, Madeira Beach

Benefitting Charities: Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation
and All Children’s Hospital

The Old Salt Fishing Foundation of Madeira Beach is proud to announce its
24th Annual Old Salt and Bill Currie Ford Ladies Fishing Tournament,
August 23rd & 25th, 2012 at Madeira Beach Municipal Marina.

Our Mission is to involve more women in the wonderful sport of fishing with a fun competitive atmosphere while raising awareness and support for the Celma Mastry Ovarian Cancer Foundation and All Children’s Hospital.

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Steinhatchee Scalloping Report, July 7, 2012–Second Weekend Busier Than The First!

by on Jul.07, 2012, under Steinhatchee, Uncategorized

Of course, the second weekend of scalloping at Steinhatchee included both Saturday and Sunday–and most of the week of July 4th.  On opening day, Jim and Joyce Hunt (they own Fiddler’s Restaurant) counted over 400 boats pass their home on the “rockpile” before noon.  I’d bet that number was doubled on Saturday, July 7.

The water situation had certainly changed.  Due to the fact that the rivers finally crested after the inland flooding, the waters were cloudy and stained on both sides of the river.  However, that didn’t stop lots of folks from gathering nice limits of scallops.  The mid-day low tide made things easier, too!  The best catches seem to be coming from the Pepperfish Keys area (South of the river mouth), but there’s still plenty of activity to the north, off Dallus Creek)  I (and many others) are hoping that the water staining will get better during the next week, making it easier for snorkelers to see their prey.

Scallopers have been getting fine catches close to shore near the mouth of Dallus Creek.

The Steinhatchee River can be very crowded during scallop season.

The cleaning table at the Sea Hag Marina is always busy during scallop season.

Kim, local scallop cleaner, will gladly shuck your catch, or give you a quick lesson.

Learn more about recreational scalloping.  Read “Bay Scallops–The Gulf of Mexico’s Tastiest Treat”

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Fish get the holiday blahs, too! A Tampa Bay Fishing Report By Capt. Ray Markham, 5/28/12

by on May.29, 2012, under Uncategorized

Holiday weeks make for tough fishing sometimes, due to the excess boating traffic. Memorial Day weekend is perhaps the busiest boating weekend of the year. Not all boaters are anglers and jet skis seem to avoid channels at all costs to buzz the flats. I know that’s not always the case, but it seems that way sometimes. Because of that, I try to steer away from the mattering crowd to get to areas less traveled by errant boaters.
Mediocre tides this past week made for slow but steady action that made you feel like you were picking away at fish. Periods of fast action just weren’t happening, and those are days when you need to pay particular attention to details to make things happen.
When currents are running slow, fish tend to find areas where larger bodies of water squeeze down to small openings like passes, mouths of rivers, and creeks. Even mosquito ditches that drain out of the mangroves on outgoing tides will hold baitfish that move up into the mangroves to escape being eaten. But when the tide heads out, these baitfish leave their security blanket to move in the direction of the bay, and this is where predators lay waiting for a quick and easy meal. The areas from Cockroach Bay south to the Manatee River along lower Tampa Bay have hundreds of these mosquito cuts. These are some areas we’ve found good action for snook. Tossing CAL Jigs with Shad tails or curly tails work well here for linesiders.
Redfish have been difficult to target this past week. Schools have scattered in the area and we’ve been limited to mostly single fish foraging for food. With boating pressure, these fish have become very skittish and reluctant to feed. When this occurs, I generally scale down the sizes of my artificial lures to make them less ominous or threatening in appearance to the fish. Sometimes it can be a matter of downsizing soft plastics by trimming a half-inch or more off and going to lighter jig heads that will trigger strikes. Where my DOA CAL 5.5 Jerk baits previously were working well on deeper open flats, dropping down to the small CAL Jerk bait or the MirrOlure Lil’ John with a 1/16th ounce jig head will do the trick.
Not only size, but color can turn fish off. Bright chartreuse or other colors that stand out can sometimes turn fish off. Going to a mottled, dark, or dull color like brown, root beer, motor oil, or golden bream can create a profile that fish look for but reduce the spooking that some fish feel from bright lures.
One of my redfish favorites is the ½ ounce Eppinger Rex Spoon in either gold or copper, but when redfish are skittish, I’ll downsize to the ¼ ounce model and go to a color that is not as flashy, like black. At times I’ll even take some brass or steel wool and lightly scuff the finish to dull it, reducing the flash and taking some of the attention getting alert away from the bait. I don’t feel like it reduces the catch rate either, and during times when these fish are very wary, it can even improve it. Once the fish are back in the feeding mode, on the flashy spoons I’ll take a polishing compound called Flitz and buff it back out to a sparkling flash once again.
During busy on-water days, fishing backcountry areas with plenty of overhanging limbs that produce shade can be productive. These areas produce when fish go shallow. A 1/4-ounce DOA Shrimp is one of my favoites here, and the night glow with holographic gold glitter is one of my go-to colors. But if water temps climb to an uncomfortable level, deep water is the only way to go. Areas off Piney Point, Joe Island, and Rattlesnake Key or Emerson Point have depths with grass patches ranging from 5 to 9-feet and these depths give fish like trout a feeling of security, so they move there. I’ll use lighter jig heads on tandem rigged jigs like the DOA Deadly Tandem or Love’s Lures Tandem for these fish. A MirrOlure 38MR18 has always been one of my deeper water standards here for trout and seabass. A larger TTR26 is also a favorite of mine here for trout.
Black sea bass have taken up some slack during periods where other fish may be slow to bite. They have been running around 13-inches or so and are delicious to eat. A few of these mixed with a redfish, some trout, and some flounder or Spanish mackerel will make up a nice bunch of fish for dinner.
My inshore trips were not targeting tarpon, but in some areas we fished, they were nearby the areas we targeted other species, so I kept a rod ready in the event we had a shot at a cruising poon. Tarpon were very finicky over the past week. Anglers had dozens of shots at these fish, but had limited success catching them while we were targeting black sea bass or trout in deep water. Better tides with next week’s upcoming full moon should make for a big improvement on the action. ‘Til then…I’ll catch ya later!

Capt. Ray Markham of Backwater Promotions runs the Flat Back II out of Terra Ceia, Florida in lower Tampa Bay and specializes in light tackle charters with artificial lures using spin, plug, and fly tackle and can be reached for charter at (941) 228-3474 or via email at Ray.Markham@gmail.com.

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Yankeetown Fishing Report From Capt Rick Muldrow, 4/9/12

by on Apr.09, 2012, under Uncategorized

This week the trout are still very good and had very good catches. Mackeral along with sharks and small cobia are starting to show up.  Reds have been good when tides have been right.  Cork and jig with plastics or corks along with casting plastics are working well.  I’ve been north up to Waccassa mainly on the flats.  Of course inside for reds, bars, points, etc.   Have seen a few tarpon on the flats.

Capt. Rick Muldrow

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Homosassa Weekly Fishing Report, 1/8/12, from Capt. William Toney

by on Jan.08, 2012, under Uncategorized

Cold Gulf water temperatures has pushed most fish into the rivers and backcountry creeks. One fish continues to enjoy the cold waters on the nearshore rocks and that’s the sheepshead.
Trout are pushed up into the deep water creeks, spring fed rivers and even residential canals because of the cold waters of the Gulf. As a trend of warm weather comes this week look for trout to move over into shallow water during the heat of the day to warm themselves in the sun. One thing to look for is deep water nearby because the trout will seek refuge in the deep water at night when the air temperatures drop cooling the shallow waters again. Good areas are in the Homosassa River, Crystal River, St. Martins River, Little Homosassa River and Mason Creek. The best bait’s are MirrOlure Lil’ Johns, D.O.A. 5.5″ Glow Jerk Baits and live shrimp.
Redfish are a little more cold hardy and can be found cruising the backcountry shallows. Sight casting with Eppinger Rex copper spoons, crab patterns on a fly rod or live shrimp with spinning tackle will catch redfish. Some of the best areas to go and sight cast for redfish is in Fish Creek, Pea Pass and the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge. Also some redfish will be in the Nature Coast Rivers near rocky points that are on deep parts of the rivers. Live shrimp is the best bait for river redfish.
The sheepshead bite is very good on the rockpiles and reefs from eight feet of water out to twenty feet. On a recent charter my clients caught 21 sheepshead in about 1 hour using shrimp. A few of the fish were 5-6 pounds. The best method is to use a 1/0 Eagle Claw baitholder hook with a 1/4 oz. sliding sinker. I hook the shrimp from the tail forward and cast it right to the edge of the structure. The sheepshead bite will be a slow but steady pull and when you feel the weight of the fish set the hook.
High incoming tide this coming weekend will be very late evening. Capt. William Toney www.homosassainshorefishing.com

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